Saturday, May 16, 2020

Ring of Fire (1991)

Johnny Woo is a doctor, and martial arts enthusiast, even though his own kickboxing days are behind him. He's happy enough dividing up work between the hospital and his family's Chinese restaurant. One day he meets the beautiful Julie, and the two fall in love. She comes from a staunch Italian-American family, including Brad, an aggressive brother who detests all things Asian. Once he finds out about the romance he swears to make trouble for Johnny and his community, and it seems the only way to resolve this dispute before it turns into a race war is to step back into the ring...

Ring of Fire gets off to a good start, showing off a couple of round of kickboxing, before introducing us to the lead characters. It's a bit of a slow start, considering the main character isn't involved in either of the matches, but it still sets up the tone for what we're about to see well enough. And if you're a kickboxing fan I imagine you'll get a kick out of any combat, regardless of whether the hero is involved (And if you're *not* into kickboxing, I can't imagine why you're watching Ring of Fire, but strangely enough it's actually an appropriate choice for such people/you, as I'll get into).

Then a weird thing starts happening-It becomes a romance! It happened gradually, but I began to notice that the amount of time devoted to relationships was actually equal with the fighting, and then it began to eclipse it! Half an hour in and Don The Dragon Wilson hasn't even thrown a single punch yet! I had a problem with the lack of fighting, but I didn't actually mind the greater focus on the romance at first, because it was a unique take on the action genre. How often do you see the romance be paid/given this much attention? A lot of the time they're just basic meatheads with maybe a basic love interest, but here we really get to see it fleshed out.

While I admired and applauded the film for what it was trying to do, this was a problem, even if only a small one. But it's a problem that grew bigger with every minute until we were an *hour* in and still no action from Don! Bloody hell! It's here where the film really started to go off the rails for me. The story becomes increasingly ridiculous, until it [culminates] in a major tragedy befalling one of the supporting leads, causing the film to become a bit too down for my tastes. In a film like this, someone dying early on would give it a sense of motivation and drama, but when it doesn't happen until fairly late in after an hour+ of otherwise [lighthearted] enough picture, it feels like it wasn't necessary for the story, and saps a lot of energy and life away. Plus, it will mean Johnny can't have any fun reminisces about that time he met his love and had crazy adventures!...Yes, a silly point I know, but still!

There are a few contrivances here and there, some acceptable and others not so much. For example, it's never clear why Brad isn't arrested. There's a token explanation later on that tries to explain why, but it doesn't really hold water. We never see their mother and their father was a long dead soldier, so I can't imagine he has = ties so strong they'd keep him outta jail, certainly not after a murder/ charge!

The romance *really* takes a swerve into ridiculously frustrating territory in the last 20 minutes! Julie is furious with her brother   but then for no apparent reason she suddenly decides to dump Johnny, slap him, then go back home with her brother. She's trying to let him down easy, but A, she failed, and B, maybe she shouldn't do that at a funeral, in front of all his friends and family?? I also don't get why cutting Johnny from her life to let him down easy also means reconciling with her psychotic racist brother either!

After this there's your typical amount of brooding, until Julie's nice grandmother whips Johnny into action, leading to a basic and cheesy speech, immediately reuniting the couple. This isn't the end of the movie though, because there's one more fight left! And it's   in the most bizarre edit imagineable! Brad wants to fight, but Johnny refuses him. Brad slaps him, and when Johnny's face turns back, suddenly they're in the ring hours later! Excuse me? Did I sit on the remote? It's a cool transition, but I feel that maaaybe there were a few things in the middle that had to be explained first?

And lastly, we come to the ending. It's a cool fight, though I question how Brad's open cheating doesn't get him disqualified, or him trying to murder Johnny with a samurai sword. Then the movie just stops, with zero resolution to anything. Don won the fight and that's all that matters, [and I guess we're just to assume that Julie's ok after being stabbed/impaled].

There's a pretty distinctive cast of characters here, some good, others not so much, but most are memorable enough, Johnny is a good lead   His cousin Terry is a likeable goofball, despite his somewhat terrible decision making, and a fundamentally flawed understanding of Thai street boxing. Julie's a sweet girl, despite her idiocy in the last act, while her brother is a good villain.

The remainder of the cast are mostly fine, though too numerous to mention, which leads into the next point. Some of the characters felt unnecessary, like the grouchy police inspector. He doggedly = everyone's tracks, but the one time you'd expect him to really step up his game  he's nowhere to be seen! I am glad at least though that his character doesn't go too far. He's a pain in the ass, but once Terry dies, he's more apologetic than accusatory. A shame he never really got a final scene. Given what happens in the ending he really should've!

While there may not be a lot of it, the kickboxing and martial arts on display in Ring of Fire is neat! Some of the editing might not capture it perfectly, but for the most part the choreography and stunt work here is commendable.

The soundtrack here is fun enough, and cheesy in a very late 80s/early 90s way, as well as overdramatic in certain scenes. Nothing to complain about. Funnily enough the same can be said of the acting. Wilson and Maria Ford are fine, and while everyone gets their over-the-top moment, some worse than others, the two leads are always good.

Overall, Ring of Fire is a serious mixed bag. I don't wanna say it's bad, because there's a lot to like or at least appreciate about it, and some smaller aspects/elements are handled really well (or *almost* handled well), but as a complete product/package, it's a bit of a disaster!...

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